News Flash: your safety program stinks if workers lose fingers in machines

The Houston-based firm Piping Technology & Products devotes a page on its website to “company safety.”   There are photos of safety banners displayed at its manufacturing facility, and pledges of continuous improvement.   The company says:

“Safety is extremely important to us.”   “At PT&P, we know that all injuries can be prevented.”   “Together, we can eliminate unsafe situations and strive for an accident-free workplace on a daily basis.”

Those words ring hollow when you look at the firm’s encounters with federal OSHA.   Just this week, Piping Technology & Products received a willful violation from OSHA because four of its hydraulic presses lacked point-of-operation guarding.   Those gross safety failures had horrible consequences: two workers had fingers amputated in the machinery.

A company is in a special class when it receives a violation classified as willful.  In FY 2012, fewer than 1 percent of all federal OSHA violations issued received a willful designation.   It is one

“committed with intentional, knowing or voluntary disregard for the law’s requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.”

OSHA’s past history with Piping Technology & Products clearly was grounds for the willful violation.  In 2011, responding to a complaint, OSHA conducted two partial inspections of the firm’s plant in Houston.   One resulted ultimately in 18 serious and 11 repeat violations of key safety standards for manufacturing facilities, including lockout/tagout and machine guarding.  The penalty approved by an administrative law judge was $560,000.  The other inspection led to 7 serious and 1 repeat violation and a $90,000 penalty.  Yet after those violations were issued the company continued to insist:

“Piping Technology & Products maintains a safe workplace for its employees.  …we’ve maintained employee safety as our #1 priority.”

and this:

“We (Piping Technology & Products) operate a safe workplace for its employees.  We take the safety and health of each and every member of our team very seriously and we think the facts and our record reflect that.   …safety is and has always been one of our core values.  We’ve never held back when it’s come to investing time or money to maintain the safety of our employees.”

It’s difficult to reconcile these statements with the four hydraulic presses lacking point-of-operation guarding, and the amputations that resulted.

The willful citation issued this week by OSHA was accompanied by an agency news release.   OSHA’s area director in South Houston said:

“Piping Technology and Products continues to expose workers to unguarded hazardous machinery, even though it has been previously cited for the same violation on various pieces of machinery.  The employer knowingly permitted workers to operate machines without proper guarding. That kind of disregard for worker safety will not be tolerated.”

In a written statement provided to the Houston Chronicle’s L.M. Sixel, the company responded:

“The accident that occurred was unfortunate, but Piping Technology & Products strives to maintain a safe and healthy workplace for its employees.”

The company seems to be missing the lesson of the OSHA citations.  Work-related amputations aren’t “unfortunate,” they are preventable.    You’d think after hundreds of thousands of dollars in OSHA penalties, and workers losing fingers in machines, Piping Technology & Products would realize its current safety program stinks.

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